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Cronenbergiana

David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen at work on Crimes of the Future (2022)

On September 21, San Sebastián will present a Donostia Award, the festival’s highest honorary accolade, to David Cronenberg prior to a screening of his latest feature, Crimes of the Future. Set just a few or perhaps many years from now, the film stars Viggo Mortensen and Léa Seydoux as Saul Tenser and Caprice, underground artists whose intimate performances entail the harvesting of new organs growing in Saul’s body. Introducing her interview with Cronenberg in the current issue of Artforum, Amy Taubin calls Crimes “both hallucinatory and intensely real—an echo chamber of Cronenbergiana.”

Crimes premiered in Cannes in May and opened in theaters in June, and we’re still talking about it in July. Reverse Shot has published a special Cronenberg edition of Body Talk, Willow Catelyn Maclay and Caden Mark Gardner’s ongoing series of conversations, featuring critics Sam Bodrojan and Mackenzie Lukenbill. As Maclay points out, the filmmaker is “so taken with the flesh, and the way it evolves with aging, and the shifting of identities and politics” that “he has become something like the poster boy of the metaphor of transness on-screen.” Bodrojan suggests that Crimes is not “so much about transness as Cronenberg’s own relationship to his work’s appropriation.” Noting that The Matrix trilogy was “tagged as trans allegory before either Lilly or Lana Wachowski co-signed that in recent years,” Gardner reminds us that films “can be read as separate from the author’s own intention.”

There is general agreement here that Crimes has less in common with science fiction than with film noir, particularly, notes Maclay, with its “token signifiers of back-alley meetings, undercover agents, and legislative bodies inserting themselves into communities they deem sexually dangerous, even if Organ Registration Agent Timlin (an excitable Cluny Brown-like Kristen Stewart) finds this world very, very exciting.” Don McKellar, who appears as Wippet, an investigator working with Timlin, agrees. For the cover of the new issue of Cinema Scope—which also, by the way, features interviews with Qiu Jiongjiong and Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor as well as writing on Dario Argento, Albert Serra, Claire Denis, Jerzy Skolimowski, and Jim Jennings—McKellar talks with Cronenberg and nails a more essential alignment between Crimes and noir: “There’s a crime at the beginning, and sort of a detective story.”

McKellar gets Cronenberg talking about the misconception that evolution necessarily leads to improvement as well as about the nuts and bolts of his filmmaking, his decreasing reliance on excessive coverage, and his incorporation of the elements of surprise he discovers in his actors’ performances or on location—Athens, in the case of Crimes. McKellar says he finds it “hard not to see [sadness] in the autobiographical sense of an artist evolving, seeing the world change around them, mutating, and struggling with his life.” To which Cronenberg replies: “There is a sense in which I am Saul Tenser, and in making this movie I am giving up some organs to the public.” One reason we will carry on talking about Crimes for years to come is that, as Lawrence Garcia writes in the new issue, the film “creates a powerful sense that its narrative is only really articulable—only thinkable—in retrospect.”

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